2024 Women’s Empowerment Panel Recap: Navigating Professional and Corporate Spaces as a Woman

Women’s Empowerment Panel Concludes Women’s History Month at USC

The USC Career Center celebrated the conclusion of Women’s History Month with a Women’s Empowerment Panel on March 28, 2024. Moderated by Kimberly Morales, a Career Engagement Graduate Intern, the virtual discussion aimed to provide insights and guidance to women navigating corporate and professional spaces.

Navigating the Evolving Workplace

In today’s rapidly evolving workplace landscape, understanding the unique challenges faced by women is crucial. The panel, composed of accomplished professionals, shared their journeys and strategies for success in diverse corporate environments. Their experiences offer valuable lessons in overcoming stereotypes and seizing opportunities.

Panelists Included:

  1. Rebecca Ahmed – Founder and Chief Energy Officer, Energetic Impact
  2. Carmen Herrera – Fortune 500 Executive | Founder, Sabi Juice (Vida for Vitality)
  3. Joy Kim – Smart Cities & Mobility Innovation Consultant, Accenture
  4. Lupe Llerenas – Bilingual Host Music and Multimedia Entertainment Journalist for The Associated Press Entertainment
  5. Janet Lee – VR Product Marketer, Meta | Founder, EmbraceNow
  6. Emily Parrott – Senior Director of Research and Evaluation, Thrive Scholars
  7. Jessica Vela Guevara – Electric Motors Systems and Validation Engineer, Rivian

Advocating for Compensation Equality

Rebecca Ahmed shares her journey of navigating career challenges as a Pakistani-American woman deviating from traditional career paths. Despite these obstacles, she recognized the importance of advocating for herself and understanding her worth in the workplace. She recalls the compensation disparity she experienced, which motivated her to become an expert and deliver a TEDx talk on achieving compensation equality, stating, “I became passionate about creating compensation equality and helping people vocalize their worth.”

Furthermore, Rebecca highlights the power of embracing one’s identity and transforming challenges into opportunities for growth and advocacy. She encourages individuals to amplify their voices and advocates for diversity and inclusion in the workplace, emphasizing, “The beautiful thing about having these identities is that you can learn how to leverage your differences as opportunities to energize the workplace.” Through her journey, Rebecca exemplifies the importance of leveraging one’s unique background and experiences to create positive change and prevent others from facing similar challenges in the future.

Embracing Change and Pursuing Passion

Carmen Herrera reflected on her career pivots, emphasizing the importance of embracing change for personal and professional growth. Recounting her transition from a financial role to a non-financial position after 15 years, Carmen highlighted her proactive approach in seeking career advancement opportunities. She stated, “I felt the need to acquire new skills by returning to school.” Through her persistence and recognition of transferable skills, Carmen successfully transitioned to a different role.

Carmen also shared her journey from corporate America to pursuing her passion for making a meaningful impact in her community. Motivated by her family’s experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, Carmen founded Sabi Juice, focusing on promoting brain health. She highlighted the importance of aligning her career path with her values and aspirations, stating, “I realized that brain health was where I wanted to make an impact and focus my attention.” Carmen’s story exemplifies the importance of strategic planning, resilience, and following one’s passion in navigating career transitions and achieving personal fulfillment.

Navigating Layoffs and Asserting Value

Joy Kim’s experience navigating a layoff highlights the challenges individuals face even after securing positions in prestigious companies. Reflecting on her situation, Kim shared, “I thought I did everything very well and successfully, as I was taught. But how could this happen to me?” Her journey underscores the personal toll layoffs can take and the feelings of inadequacy they may evoke. Instead of succumbing to these challenges, Kim took a proactive approach by leveraging her skills and expertise to advocate for her value within the company. She explained, “I had to position myself in a place of power and articulate why they would lose out by letting me go.” By shifting her perspective, Kim recognized her own strengths and successfully advocated for herself, ultimately retaining her position in the company.

Empowering Voices and Challenging Injustice

Lupe Llerenas shares her journey of self-discovery and resilience while navigating career challenges. Despite facing gender bias and subtle sexism in her workplace, exemplified by her former boss’s behavior, she highlights the importance of speaking out and seeking support. Reflecting on her experiences, Lupe states, “It’s those circumstances and situations that help you grow, especially since I have voiced my opinions in various settings.” Her story serves as a testament to the importance of confronting injustice and advocating for change, even in environments where power dynamics may seem overwhelming. Through her narrative, Lupe encourages others to assert themselves and challenge discriminatory practices, promoting a more equitable and inclusive work environment.

Advocating for Diversity in Emerging Technologies

Janet Lee sheds light on the significance of breaking into male-dominated industries and advocating for diversity in emerging technologies. She emphasizes the importance of leaning into industries with fewer female representations, stating, “I think it’s really important for us to lean into industries that might not be so female-dominated…for the future of whatever that industry is.” She adds, “There are always ways for you to exhibit your skills and maintain humility. But at the same time, hold strong whenever there are miscommunications or misunderstandings at hand.”

Janet also advocates for greater female representation in emerging fields like virtual reality and augmented reality, highlighting the need for diverse perspectives in product design and development. She stresses the importance of considering the needs of female users in technology innovation, stating, “What kind of product will we be creating? And will it suit females?” Janet encourages aspiring professionals to embrace challenges in male-dominated industries, emphasizing that their efforts will pave the way for greater inclusivity and opportunities for future generations.

Leveraging Identity and Diversity

Emily Parrott, Ph.D. reflects on her journey from a low-income background to navigating predominantly wealthy and white institutions, such as completing her bachelor’s degree at Harvard. She highlights the challenges of finding her voice and identity in these environments. Dr. Parrott emphasizes the importance of leveraging one’s identity as an asset, noting the significance of “finding spaces and places where your identity is valued” and using it as a tool for growth. Dr. Parrott found strength in her diverse perspective. She stresses the importance of emotional intelligence and cultural awareness in navigating different spaces, noting that these qualities have been instrumental in her upward mobility.

Confronting Bias in Engineering

Jessica Vela Guevara reflects on her experience as a mechanical engineer in a predominantly male-dominated field. She recalled instances where she confronted inappropriate behavior from male peers during group projects and design teams, emphasizing the importance of speaking up against such behavior. Jessica noted, “It was a very fine line of joking… not to sugarcoat these things because they happen often.” Despite the discomfort of being the minoritized voice, Jessica recognized the necessity of advocating for herself and preventing similar experiences for other women. She asserted her stance against inappropriate conduct, stating, “I don’t think what you’re saying is funny, whether you’re seeing it as a joke or however. It’s inappropriate. You gotta call them out.” Through conversations with fellow female engineers, Jessica found solace in shared experiences, recognizing the need for self-compassion and resilience in a male-dominated industry.

Key Panelist Advice

  • Discover Your Values: “Get clear on what you value…discover your values, define your values, energize your values.” – Rebecca Ahmed
  • Embrace Perseverance: “Don’t let a closed door keep you from opening another.” – Carmen Herrera
  • Tap into Collective Power: “We have collective power…share those experiences and make it into a giant pool that everyone can tap into.” – Joy Kim
  • Avoid Comparisons: “Don’t compare your chapter 11 to someone else’s chapter 27…allow yourself to really take in what you want and push that and feel you will.” – Lupe LLerenas
  • Invest in Yourself: “Always invest and take a chance on yourself…be that the education that you want, the hobbies, the self-improvements.” – Janet Lee
  • Network Proactively: “The best time to look for a job is when you don’t need one…building that network is really important.” – Emily Parrott, PhD
  • Be Intentional: “The most admirable characteristic…is intentionality…know your values, know what you want, what you don’t want, and honestly, just go out there.” – Jessica Vela

The insights from these accomplished women professionals guide career navigation. By leveraging their identities, investing in themselves, and building strong networks, they teach valuable lessons for overcoming workplace challenges. Embracing opportunities and forging meaningful connections can lead to personal and professional success. The panelists’ stories highlight the importance of resilience, intentionality, and collective support in thriving amidst uncertainty.

Watch the Panel Discussion

For a deeper dive into the discussions and insights shared by the panelists, watch the full Women’s Empowerment Panel on our USC Career Center YouTube channel: 2024 Women’s Empowerment Panel: Navigating Professional and Corporate Spaces as a Women.

By Ella Rae Columbres
Ella Rae Columbres